Controversial corn: Celebrating 150 years of the RCMP

This year's corn maze may have missed the mark.

For 23 years, the Edmonton Corn Maze has creatively carved themed designs into the maze. This year, they designed the maze to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The design was complete with a mountaineering salute and the words “150 RCMP – CRC” written into the crop. This design, however, garnered criticism for its celebration of the RCMP, which has historically been harmful to Canada’s marginalized communities, especially Indigenous peoples.

The owner and creator of the maze, Jesse Kraay, had previously issued an apology over Instagram for the potentially perceived “insensitive and dismissive” celebration of the RCMP. The apology acknowledged that this year’s celebratory design seems to lack acknowledgment of the “hurt and harm” caused by the RCMP. 

However, the corn maze organizers expressed that they did not feel the apology accurately conveyed their support to the RCMP. Subsequently, they took down the apology. In the follow-up statement, they explicitly expressed their approval of the “good work [the RCMP] do.” They stated that their initial messaging lacked their true sentiment of endorsement. 

An RCMP-themed maze is not a design I find myself rushing to see during fall festivities. However, Canadian history supports the criticism that the RCMP are not so praiseworthy. To me, the apology itself and its retraction in favour of a more pragmatic expression of RCMP support shows uncertainty about the harmful effects of colonialism that is frankly indisputable.

Supporting the RCMP may seem like a patriotic take. However, you can’t vehemently support the RCMP as a whole while simultaneously acknowledging the harm they have caused. Indigenous communities continue to suffer because of a recognition that is rarely followed by action.

What represents a broader problem in our current culture is that the creators of the maze can attempt to walk a line that recognizes the mistreatment of these communities while also praising the work of the RCMP. To actively celebrate the RCMP’s anniversary and honour its history is to discredit the accounts that would otherwise deny celebration and pride. Police interactions with Indigenous peoples are a complex dynamic that a cornfield cannot acknowledge adequately.

Since colonization, the RCMP have been used to control Indigenous peoples and their land. The RCMP have continually had cases of mistreatment towards Indigenous peoples which still continue today.

The issue of the corn maze is simply an example of broader problems Indigenous people face. Flooding the Edmonton Journal’s comments was the sentiment that the owners of the corn maze did not owe an apology. The commenters criticized the idea that evaluating the RCMP should be based on their ongoing interaction with Indigenous people. 

Conversely, some individuals proposed redirecting attention towards the commendable efforts of the RCMP. For example, one commenter asked, “do we erase all the good because of the bad?”

This take shows the familiar dissonance in the minds of some Canadians. Although aware of the RCMP’s history, many seem unconvinced of its gravity. Cases throughout recent years have shown a lack of improvement within the RCMP’s conduct. Ignoring these concerns explicitly endangers the safety and lives of Indigenous peoples. 

For example, the handling of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has garnered criticism for the RCMP, even internally. The slow action from the RCMP, especially against their own misconduct, is anything but insignificant. 

As we move forward, some seem to have a mental commitment to focus on the good work. Still, optimism is not the solution regarding historical events that profoundly shaped the political and situational landscape many Indigenous people live in today. 

This isn’t to say that there isn’t some good within the RCMP. The RCMP and its officers have served Indigenous communities in their own capacities. Claudia Williams, an Indigenous woman whose sister’s body was found near the Trail of Tears, recounted the profound effects of retired RCMP officer Ray Michalko’s support and efforts on her experience with law enforcement and, subsequently, her life.

“[Ray] put so much effort into helping us. It’s an example of how things should be done,” Williams stated. This praise does not negate the mistreatment experienced by Indigenous people at the hands of the RCMP, and officers like Ray worked to combat this systemic failure.

The reality remains that even in something as innocent as the design of a corn maze, we can choose to remember what the RCMP took and continues to take from Indigenous communities. Or, we can claim that this history is in the past.

Importantly, the maze is still open, but this opportunity isn’t something we should be missing. Maybe it’s a chance for everyone to evaluate if their understanding of Canadian history extends further than a classroom or a truth and reconciliation ceremony. We must address the bad before we can see the RCMP as generally good. 

Naomi Isaac

Naomi is contributing to the Opinion coverage of the 2023 UASU Elections.

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